Old-school Blue Jay studio up for sale
CARLISLE - For sale: Country business on a postage-stamp-size lot. Price: $799,000. Selling point: Lady Gaga was a customer.
From the outside, the legendary Blue Jay Recording Studio, built in 1979, has no more flash than a hobbit hole. Many locals don’t even know it exists. But down a driveway, tucked into the side of a hill, there’s a subterranean space that over the years has attracted some of the biggest names in music, from Aerosmith to Gaga.
But with the music industry going through seismic changes, classic studios like Blue Jay are becoming as rare as a 45 rpm record.
“From Billy Joel to Carly Simon, Aerosmith, Yo-Yo Ma, people from around the world recorded here,’’ said Marcus Siskind, Blue Jay’s owner. “The list goes on and on.’’
Siskind, a music professional who owns the record company Mass Appeal Entertainment, said he put the studio on the market to consolidate his business efforts on the South Shore. Outfitted with a deluxe recording area, an air-tight live room, two isolation booths, a production suite, and plenty of space for unscripted behind-the-scenes rock moments, the property is still considered one of New England’s top recording venues.
“Someone should jump on it,’’ said Chris Wilson, a former Rounder Records employee touring Blue Jay with a real estate agent earlier this month.
But it wasn’t going to be him.
“I think it’s a really good price. It’s unfortunate that the music business is in the place that it is right now,’’ said Wilson, who was scoping out the studio for an unnamed musician.
Advances in software such as Apple Inc.’s Garageband and Avid Technology Inc.’s Pro Tools have turned laptops, smartphones, and tablets into portable recording studios, making it possible for artists to create music anywhere, and relatively cheaply. Meantime, CD sales have fallen sharply as more people get their music through downloads - some of them free - and streaming. That’s led to the closing of many major recording rooms over the last decade, including the legendary Hit Factory in New York City.
Blue Jay still attracts high-caliber musicians who rent the space for $1,000 a day, according to Siskind. That includes the work of master sound engineers on staff. Lady Gaga, reported to have shown up in fishnet stockings and little else, recorded parts of her 2011 hit “Judas’’ at the studio.
Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block made his last solo album, “Unfinished,’’ at Blue Jay. It’s “the perfect place to get creative,’’ he said in an e-mail. “The peaceful ride out to Carlisle clears my mind, and when I get there I’m ready to put my ideas down.’’
That was Siskind’s thinking in 2001, when he and Kevin Richardson, an original member of the Backstreet Boys, bought the studio from Bob Lawson. They invested $1 million in renovations and closed the place for a year to complete the work.
“We hired the best acoustician in the country and spared no expense,’’ said Siskind, who bought Richardson’s share of the business in 2008. “We have vintage analog gear that continues to appreciate.’’
Siskind concedes that today it’s hard to compete with the budget of a bedroom recording project, but he said the quality and the experience can’t compare.
“There is still a need for a place like Blue Jay. People still want to leave their bedroom and go to a place that is not in the city,’’ he said.
Once he finds a buyer, Siskind plans to concentrate on Mass Appeal Entertainment, a publishing, production, and recording company that specializes in pop, hip-hop, and rhythm and blues acts.
Founder Lawson and his wife, Janet, built Blue Jay during a much different era - the music industry was highly profitable and top-tier studio time was in demand.
“There was such a vibrant music scene in Boston,’’ said Lawson, who lives in Concord, and is no longer associated with the studio. “We were young and brash and figured there would be business New England-wide.’’
And there was.
When Aerosmith called to book time in 1980, a year after Blue Jay opened, “that gave me a jolt,’’ Lawson said. It also tested the studio’s soundproof walls. The band laid down an ear-splitting track at 5 a.m. “I stepped outside and heard only birds chirping. I thought OK, I think we’ve got something here,’’ he said.
Lawson also recalled Roy Orbison bringing an unknown singer to record a duet version of Orbison’s 1961 hit “Crying.’’ It was k.d. Lang.
“No one had heard of her then,’’ he said. “That song propelled her career.’’
Now the biggest challenge facing Blue Jay isn’t creating another hit song, but finding a way to market the studio.
Listing agent Suzanne Koller of Keller Williams Realty in Bedford has created an online video highlighting its pedigree. She’s reaching out to people like auto dealer Ernie Boch Jr. - who has his own band, Ernie and the Automatics - and online music management company Nimbit. Koller is also planning a battle of the bands party in the studio to generate enthusiasm.
Siskind remains hopeful. “I’d love to pass it on to someone that can to keep it going for many years to come,’’ he said. “Keep it as respected and legendary as it is.’’
Lawson seconds that notion, but he’s also realistic.
“It’s a tough age to want to buy a studio. It was back in 2000, it’s harder now,’’ he said. “It will be sad if someday it’s no longer a recording studio.’’
SOME OF THE HIGH NOTES AT BLUE JAY RECORDING STUDIO
k.d. Lang recorded “Crying” with Roy Orbison, which launched her career, and won them a Grammy in 1989.
The moving song “Ashokan Farewell,” part of the 1990 Grammy-winning soundtrack to the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War,” was recorded there.
It took Ben Orr, bassist and singer for The Cars, three months in the summer of 1986 to record his solo album “The Lace,” with the hit single “Stay the Night.”
Platinum records recorded there include “The Collection” by Amy Grant and “Third Stage” by Boston in 1986, and “Trash” by Alice Cooper in 1989.
Lady Gaga reportedly showed up at the Carlisle studio in fishnet stockings and little else to work on her 2011 song hit “Judas.”